Tone

We have had great fun with Line for the last four weeks and now it is time to focus on Tone.
Week 5 is below. Click here for Week 6. Click here for Week 7. Click here for Week 8.

Tone in art refers to the lightness or darkness of something, or how light or dark a colour appears. Learning to see tone is important if you want to draw three-dimensional objects that appear real. Over the next few weeks we are going to look closely at light and shadows and see how light effects the appearance of an object and how we can use this knowledge in drawings and other artworks to make things appear more 3D. Later in the course we will see how artists use tone, learn to mix tones with paint and play with tones in collage, but for now we are going to look at light on white objects.

Week 5 - Light and Tone
The first thing we need to know is that light travels in straight lines. When light hits an object it doesn't bend around it. The parts of the object that it hits appear brighter than the rest and the object casts shadows on whatever is behind where the light hits. This might sound simple, but it is really important. Lots of people try to make their artwork more realistic by adding tone, but they miss this very important connection with light.
Sometimes they randomly shade in areas or sometimes they see a diagram like the one below and get excited. They study it and notice that there are five shades of grey (tonal values) used to make the circle look like a sphere. They see that the top right of the ball is white, the shadow on the bottom left is almost black and they even notice where the other three shades belong in this particular image. That's great, but if they don't make the connection with where the light source is and what this means, they end up drawing all their shadows on the bottom left and all their highlights on the top right, no matter what they are looking at. This diagram also just shows one object on its own, what would happen if a bigger object came between it and the light source?


The diagram below is more helpful as it includes an important element - the position of the light source. As you can see, because the light is coming from above and left of the object in this case, the highlight is on the top left and the shadow is on the bottom right. If you Google 'tone on a sphere' and go to images you will find lots more diagrams like these.

Of course the more complicated your objects become, the harder it is to break light and shade down into these simple terms, that is why it is a good idea to know about how light works first and a good way to do this is to play with a torch, a camera and some white objects (two or three will do). The reason for picking white objects is that it is easier to see the differences in light and shade on them, rather than complicating matters with colour yet. Remember to get out your journal/sketchpad or whatever you have been using and take some notes about what you see, you can also do some quick sketches.

First of all put your objects on a flat surface in daylight (if you can, cover this with something white too). It is harder to decide exactly where the light is coming from in bright daylight, but you should still be able to make out areas of light and shade. So even though your object is all the same colour (white) it looks like some parts of it are light grey and others are dark grey. Take a digital photo and look at it, you will probably notice this more. It might sound strange, but because we are so used to looking at objects, it can be hard at first to notice these differences so setting up different lighting situations can help.
Looking at black and white photos (such as the flower below) is also a good way to start noticing how objects actually appear in tones of grey.

Try setting up your white objects in a dark room and shining a torch from different directions on them and take photos of each setup. Do you notice the greys are darker in the dark room? What does it look like if you shine the torch really low down on the objects? Where are your shadows? What about if you hold the torch directly above the centre? Do the tones and shadows change if you move the torch further away, or really close to the objects? If you turn on the light in the room too what changes? What about if you let in more natural light and try shining your torch too? Play around with as many different lighting situations as you can think of. Bring the objects outside, or put them in a small box, put them on a shelf and shine light(s) from below. Try a desk lamp instead of a torch, does anything change? Keep making notes and, if you can, print out a few of your photos and stick them in with your notes, and don't forget to send us some!

It is much more important at this stage to notice the changes in light and shade and how this effects the appearance of tone on the objects, but do draw one of you objects in two contrasting lighting set ups, paying close attention to where the light shines and shadows fall.

We got a bit carried away with this during the week and have already about 60 photos in our album here, but we've room for lots more. Here are a few of the best ones for demonstrating how light falls on the objects and causes them to appear in tones of grey rather than flat white. The first three are taken from almost exactly the same spot, but the areas of shadow and highlight are very different in each one. From what you have learned setting up your own objects can you figure out where the light was and whether it was natural or artificial (lightbulb) light?

In the next two you can really see how different the shades of grey can appear depending on how dramatic the lighting is and I included the last one as I really like the contrast between the very white area on the right and the dark shadows stretching out across the left of the photo. Have fun creating your own!


If you are interested in finding out more about the science of light these links are a good place to start.
Try the Discover Primary Science and Maths activities here or have a look at these for more detailed explanations:

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